The adult body needs an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep to function. With a newborn in the house, the parents get about 2 hours per night less than their usual sleep time.
There is no miracle solution for handling parents sleep deprivation. I’m writing those lines as my 9-month daughter turned into a night bird a couple of weeks ago. She was the tightest sleeper we could dream of, but she caught up. And like many new parents, I feel like a jet-lagged zombie just able to crawl to the coffee machine for many hours of the day.
But ways to ease sleep deprivation effects exist. Here are my simple techniques to get on with it. These are helpful tips to help keep functioning. Sleep disruption can have severe consequences in the long run, so take action before it gets bad.
This, too, shall pass.
1. Stay Hydrated
A deficit of water has an immediate and negative impact on your mood. According to the National Sleep Foundation, slight dehydration can disrupt sleep and even lead to cramps. So to not make things worse the following day, don’t forget the pre-bed fluids.
2. Healthy Snacks and balanced meals
Start the day with breakfast with adequate proteins and healthful fat. Throughout the day, fruit snacks release energy. Try to have these snacks every two hours or so.
Even if you feel hungover hungry, fat and sugar oriented foods will leave you tired, lack of sleep slows your metabolism down, thus favors weight gain. A poor diet, like the lack of water, makes things worse. It’s essential to make healthy food choices: no sugary breakfast and a light meal in the evening.
3. Take care of yourself and the others.
Go outside when you get a chance: getting fresh makes you more alert. Even for a short time, a little physical exercise reduces stress and helps with endorphins secretion. With a clearer mind, you are a safer caregiver for your baby. Don’t underestimate your state of tiredness when communicating with your partner. Remember you are talking to another sleep-deprived parent who has the same difficulty to stay calm as you do. Watch what you’re saying for the sake of the household atmosphere.
4. Accept the help you’re offered.
Family members or friends can assist you. They have probably sailed in the same waters, so no one will judge you for asking for a couple of hours off. Volunteers can come over for the day so you can chill or nap while they tend the baby.
5. No blue light before bedtime (easier said than done)
Leave all the online restlessness behind an hour before bedtime so your brain can rest. No stressful tasks or stimuli before sleep is better. Sleep medicine has shown that blue light disturbs the natural sleep-wake cycle called the Circadian rhythm. Sleep quality improves when you let the melatonin naturally prepare your body for sleep with no screen time one hour before sleep time. Only one-third of parents have a bedtime routine. The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and addiction to devices decreased the average sleep duration by one hour over the past 80 years in the US (1).
6. Keep a positive mindset.
Focus is key. If we refer to the statistics, the hardest part of the sleeplessness challenge lasts 12 months. Most babies do not sleep without interruption during the night before one year of age. Newborns have a small stomach and need to eat about every three hours. Infant sleep patterns change.
It helps to know that you’re not alone. Millions of other parents are in the same boat. Focus and discipline to take the punches are what you need. It won’t last forever.
7. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!
According to the journal Sleep study (1), women lose 40 minutes of sleep a night in the year after the baby arrived. It is 13 minutes of sleep duration for men.
This imbalance shows the importance of teamwork. Take turns with your partner and decide who takes the night shift. Work out a system where both of you get at least four hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep fragmentation makes the sleep less restful and prevents deep sleep reach. A deep sleep cycle is the one during which you get the most relaxation. So dad can take a shift for the nighttime feedings, for example.
8. Yes to catnaps! But Catch-up sleep is not the solution.
Sleep specialists (2) recommend not to take naps longer than 20 minutes and not after 3 pm because it can interfere with nighttime quality sleep. I do bypass that rule with my own baby because rest is like water. I sleep what I can when I can. First, because when I feel exhausted, a nap will not prevent me from falling in the evening. Secondly, because I don’t know what the next night will be like.
If you have a chance to put a 10-12 hour sleep block, go for it, but it won’t fix the problem. You recharge better with subsequent shorter nights of uninterrupted sleep.
9. Baby Sleep Training
You can start sleep training where your baby reaches 4 months (more or less 12 pounds). Find the formula you’re comfortable with to create a positive bedtime habit. A baby’s sleep pattern can evolve because of changes in development, so be patient. According to Christina Korownyk, associate professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, an infant sleep specialist, it can take up to one week for the baby to improve his sleep. Applying a consistent sleep routine will help lengthen your baby’s sleep stretches (3). Fewer wake-ups mean fewer sleep interruptions for you and more time in the restful zone of your precious sleep time.
It’s time to apply a few of these tips if you feel down.
It’s essential to prioritize the quality of the sleep you can get not only for peaceful parenting but also for preventing more serious affections.
- You look morose: dark bags under the eyes and droopy corners are due to a lower collagen fabrication.
- You don’t feel sharp: parental sleep deprivation affects your intellectual perception and reactivity. A study showed that sleep-deprived subjects had more difficulty to form positive facial expressions. That can mirror on infants.
- In the long term, it can have consequences on your mental health as well. Beyond irritability and mood swings, the ability to cope decreases. Chronic shorter sleep can be linked to depression and anxiety diagnosis, says Sleep expert Dr. Stremler from the Pediatric Sleep Council.
So, What Do We Do With Parents Sleep Deprivation?
For parents of newborns, sleep debt is inevitable. My point here is that you need to focus on yourself to take it. Babies don’t care about parenting tips. Continue being a good parent and partner despite all the sleep deprivation challenge.
Your sleep experience will have good days again.
Hang in there. Your baby’s smile is a source of joy and makes it all worth it!
- Oxford Academic: “Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers.” Volume 42, Issue 4, April 2019.
- mayoclinic.org: “Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults.“
- cfp.ca: Canadian Family Physician: “Infant sleep training, rest easy?“